Civil-Military Relations

The Control

Pakistani politicians, a conglomerate of feudals, merchants, retired bureaucrats, powerful mafias and religious elements, are always contenders for power but they lack the discipline and organization of the army and are no match for it.

By Justice (r) M. Shaiq Usmani | January 2020

In the history of Pakistan, the expression “Controlled Democracy” was first used by no less a person than the first President of the Republic of Pakistan, Iskandar Mirza, in 1957. Later the expression was sanctified by Ayub Khan in his famous or infamous book, depending on how one looks at it, "Friends Not Masters". Both these gentleman belonged to the Army mindset and believed in having total control and yet had to pay lip service to democracy since Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be a democracy. But Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan were perhaps alone in harbouring this desire in the early years of Pakistan. The rest of the stalwarts of the movement for creation of Pakistan were essentially feudals, not the feudals in the mould of the aristocrats in Europe or even in Oudh, Bengal and Hyderabad Deccan in India but a crude lot without any sophistication who lorded over and even exploited their subjects in their fiefdoms. For them, democracy as enunciated by Jinnah was an anathema but they lacked the courage to stand up to Jinnah and hence bided their time and the time came when Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated. Looking at the scenario then prevalent, there is no need to guess as to who was responsible for his assassination.

Thereafter in the nascent Pakistan, power passed into the hands of the bureaucrats, who instinctively had no love lost for democracy and made haste to have the parliament disbanded which had become an inconvenience. However, while the bureaucrats of the ilk of Ghulam Mohammad and Iskandar Mirza did not lack in guile, they lacked the muscle to keep the other contenders for power, that is the feudals, at bay hence the induction of General Ayub Khan, the Army Chief in the cabinet. But then it is a matter of history how Ayub Khan, in collusion with the ex-army man turned bureaucrat, Iskandar Mirza, seized power and then disbanded unfortunate Mirza and took over absolute power himself.

Ayub Khan soon realized that the feudals were conspiring behind the scenes hence the need to consolidate his power by making his source of power, i.e. the army strong, which at the time was equipped with Second World War armament that had become obsolete. For this, he turned to the Americans with whom he was already in touch as the Army Chief through the Military Assistance Agreement entered into in 1954. Pakistan thus became militarily strong but landed firmly in the American camp, leading eventually to heartburns which resulted in Ayub Khan, courtesy Altaf Gauhar, publishing the book “Friends not Masters”

On the political front, the feudals were biding their time for Ayub Khan to show a chink in the armour. This was provided by the fiasco of the 1965 war and then, through a feudal, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a movement was launched against him. Bhutto of course used socialism to give his movement a popular base even though he was far from being a socialist or a democrat at heart. It was for this reason that Bhutto, soon after coming into power after the interregnum of Yahya Khan’s rule and the ill-fated 1971 war and after introducing disastrous reforms to show his socialist credentials, soon reverted to his feudal ways, that is to seek and wield absolute power. Meanwhile, the military watched these developments with great alarm. They realized that the strengthening of the feudals, coupled with the rise of the left due to the pseudo-socialism of Bhutto, would eventually loosen the grip of the army over the state apparatus. Hence followed the movement to oust Bhutto, initiated by Bhutto’s own indiscretions during the general elections of 1977 and then galvanized by the religious elements joining in, which eventually led to General Zia-ul-Haq’s putsch in 1979.

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The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court. He has been actively involved in human and women’s rights causes.

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It is true that the basic precondition of a democratic setup is a healthy civil-military relationship. In all democratic countries, an elected civilian government enjoys full control over the military. However, in Pakistan, control over governance has civil and military leaderships. There has been a decade of civilian supremacy followed by a decade of military rule. The reasons for this periodic shuffling are incompetent political leadership, weak political parties and institutions, rising power of civil-military bureaucracy, serious security threats to the country and frequent use of military in aid of civil power.

One thought on “The Control

  • January 22, 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Pakistan is one of those countries where the military has always played a crucial role in governance. It seems this country is still not ready for real democracy. However, considering Pakistan’s current conditions, the military should come out and play a more active part.